This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Las Vegas • In what will probably go down as one of the most bitter losses in BYU women's basketball history, the top-seeded Cougars were upset 70-68 by sixth-seeded San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon in the West Coast Conference championship game at Orleans Arena.
"We are probably going to be hung up on it a little bit," said BYU's Kalani Purcell. "… It is just a matter of picking each other up now."
The Cougars (26-6), winners of the WCC's regular-season championship by two games, will now have to wait six excruciating days to learn whether or not they did enough to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. Selections will be made on Monday.
"Well, I think we will get in," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "We have a [good RPI] and we won our conference by two games. We got in the finals today, lost on a last-second shot or, foul shots at the end."
San Francisco (21-11) gets the league's automatic bid and makes the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 19 years. The Dons rallied from a 15-point deficit in the first quarter, and took their first lead with 17 seconds remaining on pair of free throws by Zhane Dikes, a Las Vegas native.
It was a dream start for the Cougars, and a nightmarish finish.
They led 68-64 with 1:22 left when Amanda Wayment who had left the game earlier with an ankle injury made one of two free throws.
However, tournament MVP Taylor Proctor scored for USF with 1:10 left, and was fouled by Lexi Rydalch, her fourth. Proctor missed the free throw, but the Cougars threw the ball away seconds later, and Rydalch fouled out with 47 seconds remaining contesting a Dikes' jumper.
Floundering on offense without the leading scorer in WCC history (2,513 points) on the floor, the Cougars' missed a layup, then fouled Dikes, who made the game-winning free throws.
"We played really well this week, and just in the last couple of minutes didn't execute like we wanted," Judkins said. "We have probably done that 26 times right, and tonight we just didn't do what we needed to do down at the end."
Trailing by one, Judkins called for a play that would work against a zone or man-to-man defense. Seldom-used junior Kristine Fuller Nielson took a 3-pointer with eight seconds left, but it was off target.
"Maybe I should have changed positions and let somebody who had played the whole game be there," Judkins said. "… I thought they would run out at [Nielson] and I thought she would kick it to the shooters in the corner. But I am glad she took it. She didn't hesitate."
Judkins said the game wasn't decided by that errant 3-pointer. He bemoaned the six turnovers in the final quarter, and the Cougars' failure to box out on missed USF free throws.
He was visibly upset late in the third quarter, however, when officials wiped away a 3-pointer by Makenzi Pulsipher and called Purcell for a moving screen. The shot would have given the Cougars a nine-point lead.
"Not everything goes perfectly all the time in life," he said.
Perhaps it came too easy early, because BYU jumped in front 10-0 and led 26-11 with 17 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Cassie Broadhead completed a 3-point play.
San Francisco, coached by former Utah Starzz player Jennifer Azzi, chipped away at the favorites' big lead, and pulled to within five at halftime.
"It is hard to handle that [early success], especially in the championship game where there's a lot of emotion. We kind of had a letdown and that was when San Francisco got back in it," said Rydalch, who led BYU with 23 points but missed eight straight shots after a hot start and finished 7 of 21 from the field, 3 of 13 from 3-point range.
Rydalch and Purcell made the all-tournament team, along with USF's Proctor and Dikes and Santa Clara's Lori Parkinson, a product of Magna's Cyprus High.
Purcell finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, but lost the ball in the final seconds after Proctor's free throw with 5.9 ticks on the clock gave the Dons the 70-68 lead.
"It sucks. We lost, and it is tough [to swallow]," Purcell said.
"I think what hurts is when you have had a great season like this these guys have been awesome, fun to coach and you know how hard they've worked," Judkins said. "And then to lose, it is hard. But these girls will bounce back. They are champions. They are fighters, and I know they will come back."
Rydalch said the feeling reminded her of the Cougars' loss to Gonzaga in the 2014 championship game. BYU went on to the NCAA's Sweet 16 that year.
Now the Cougars are left hoping for an opportunity to repeat that feat.
R USF's Zhane Dikes sinks two free throws with 17 seconds left for the go-ahead points.
• BYU's Lexi Rydalch scores 23 points but fouls out with 49 seconds left, and the Cougars fail to score in the game's final 1:22.